The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has today put out a new report to try and encourage government to adopt stronger targets for superfast broadband roll-out in the UK. It claims that around 45,000 business are still on dial-up connections and many more business receive a poor service from their broadband connection.
Current UK proposals are to try and reach 95% of the population with a superfast broadband speed at a minimum of 24meg broadband by 2017, with everyone else able to connect at a minimum of 2Mbps. The FSB thinks that this is failing small businesses and government should instead push for higher targets, delivering 10Mbps to all business premises by 2018-2019, and 100Mbps to all premises by 2030.
"The fact that we have around 45,000 businesses still on dial up is unacceptable and many more throughout the country, even in London, are receiving poor service. Evidence from our members shows this clearly is a problem affecting all corners of the UK, rural areas and cities alike. While progress has been made with the residential market, businesses have not enjoyed the same benefits, which is holding back their growth. We therefore want to see the UK Government show ambition with its broadband targets and put business needs at their centre. Leaving five per cent of the population with a 2Mbps connection in 2017 is not good enough."John Allan (National Chairman), Federation of Small Businesses
Some of the other proposals that it puts forward in its paper, include focusing high-speed broadband roll at businesses, and include minimum bandwidth levels, reliable connections and improving upload speeds and latency. The FSB also think that Government should prioritise the delivery of these services to business parks and make sure that enterprise zones are fully connected. It believes that a structural reform of the broadband market is needed to deliver these objectives, and it wants the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to conduct an assessment into the current market structure.
Many of these proposals have some merit, but it does gloss over the complexity of ripping up current policy which is currently well in progress, and the benefits this will bring to those businesses that are currently suffering from no or poor broadband services. A target of 10Mbps by 2017/8 would also fall short of the European target to get 30Mbps to all in Europe by 2020, and focusing on the lower speed may limit our ability to reach this EU target.
Unfortunately, the cost of installing an equal service to all businesses is never going to be achieved economically throughout the land challenges and population variances across the UK and therefore alternate connection methods have to be considered for different communities, consumers and businesses. There are different options out there and these can help improve broadband speeds and reliability at a reasonable cost. This might mean for some businesses installing a leased line, for others it could include bonded DSL or satellite broadband connections, which can meet speed targets with reasonable costs. Some villages or communities may gain the most benefit from fixed-wireless solutions providing a faster connection to many premises, whilst 4G services may be able to provide a minimum level of services to some customers.
Whilst businesses are a key component in the governments plans, the need to deliver to consumers also will obviously help shape a combined policy going forward.